Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Asymptomatic

As of August 5, when Daughter-Only drove away shortly before noon in search of fame, fortune and a college education in close proximity to her boyfriend, Hubby and I are officially Empty Nesters. 

We've been temporarily Empty Nesters before, when Daughter-Only moved to an apartment less than a mile away, but we suspected from the start that arrangement wouldn't last and even while it did last, Daughter-Only came and went unexpectedly at all hours so our nest never felt all that empty. This time, though, Daughter-Only, our youngest, has moved across the country and her brothers are all fairly settled in away from home lives as well so...Empty Nest.

Hubby says to me the other day, "You know, I miss the kids. I really do. But...I'm really enjoying peeing with the bathroom door open. And...I can even walk from the shower to the bedroom without having to put a towel around myself!"

Monday, September 01, 2014

Be It Ever So Humble

Hello, my bloggy friends, let's begin with a little survey: Where do you stand on weirdness? Do you think it's best to ignore it and hope it goes away? Or do you feel as though blurting out how weird something is somehow takes the edge off the weirdness, at least a little bit?

It's always weird when I come back to the blog after being away for an extended period. My voice sounds kind of echoey and hollow here in this wide-open space and the only relief for it is to keep typing away until the space is a little less empty.

I've spent the vast majority of the day reading piece after piece of flash nonfiction in an online magazine called Brevity. I discovered Brevity in one of those moments of literary serendipity--this blurb in a magazine led to that book which had another blurb which led to a different online magazine which had a link to Brevity and I fell deeply in love. Today's back issue binge was courtesy in part of a new-to-me laptop, which makes spending the day reading a screen ever-so-much more (way too much more, I think) comfortable than sitting at my desk in my office.

The new-to-me-laptop is courtesy of a promotion at work and I have spent the day using it for personal things under the guise of acclimating myself to the new-to-me technology. (I've been strictly a desktop girl up to now--no tablets or e-readers or even a fancy phone to connect to the internet with.)

The constant reminder of my day job has been comforting since the pieces on Brevity are mostly so well written that they are both awe-inspiring and extremely humbling. Please understand, it's been a very long time since I've harbored the illusion of making a living as a writer--probably since fourth grade when Mrs. Wentz had us do a what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up project. Mrs. Wentz was nothing if not thorough and as part of the project, we had to write down what we expected to get paid for our work. Planning to be a novelist, I calculated that I should earn one-third the cover price of every book sold. I figured one-third for me, one-third for the publisher and one-third for the owners of the stores who sold the book. For reasons I didn't understand at the time, Mrs. Wentz was amused and delighted by my formula and made sure to share her delight and amusement with my mother at the next parent-teacher conference.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've imagined quitting my day job and writing for a living as anything other than a far-fetched fantasy, which is good since the pieces on Brevity were, as I said, awe-inspiring and extremely humbling. The cumulative effect of that much good writing all in one sitting was to not only utterly destroy any microscopic lingering illusion of my making a living writing, but also to make me question the wisdom of continuing to write at all.

If I cannot write like this--lyrically with subtlety and grace--what then is the point of writing at all? I try to imagine the amount of writing practice that would turn my writing into that sort of writing--and the answer I smash headlong into each time is no amount of practice or time will turn my voice into voices like those.

This is not false modesty or a fishing expedition for reassuring comments. Instead, it is a clear-eyed evaluation of the skills I possess and the ones I don't. I realize, or I think I do, that my writing has certain strengths. It's just that those strengths are not subtlety or grace or...any of a million other intangible things that I have spent the day admiring in the work on Brevity

I can't ever come to the page with the same life experience, the same worldview, the same talent as those other writers. What I can do is sharpen my prose, choose stronger verbs, tighten my sentence structure, dig deeper and dare more in hopes of coming ever closer to making the words on the page resemble the images in my head. And so, finally, again, I discover anew something I've known all along: the point of writing practice is not to learn to write like other people, but to learn to write more like myself.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nighty Night

Home late after cramming five days of work into a four day work week. (In other news: FOUR DAY WORK WEEK and TEAM TRIVIA!!!!!) So very ready for sleepy time...

Z is for Zzzzzz

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Proofreading The World

While driving through town this afternoon, I noticed that the scrolling marquee at the bank on Main Street was advertising a local performance of that beloved children's classic: "Charlottes's Web."

Now, I understand that not everyone has the same (rabid) interest in proper punctuation, spelling and grammar that I do. And I understand that many people lack the aptitude for such things. What I don't understand is why so many of those people are the ones in charge of posting signs and notices.

Y is for You've Gotta Be Kiddin' Me!

Monday, April 28, 2014

And Two To Go...

You know that feeling that combines both "I thought I'd never get here" and "How the heck did I get here so fast?" Well, that's how I'm feeling about A-Z tonight.

X is for X-ing Off The Days

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Random Quote Saturday

"Writing is the way I ground myself, and it's what keeps me sane. Writing is the way I try to make sense of my life, try to find meaning in accident, reasons why what happens happens--even though I know that why is a distraction, and meaning you have to cobble together yourself. Sometimes just holding a pen in my hand and writing milk butter eggs sugar calms me. Truth is what I'm ultimately after, truth or clarity. I think that's what we're all after..."

Abigail Thomas, "How To Write Your Own Memoir" in O, The Oprah Magazine, August 2008
 
W is for Writing

Friday, April 25, 2014

Random Quote Friday

"They would talk and I would listen. The sound of their voices was a lullaby to me, an assurance that life percolated on through the long night--that I was safe. I would fall asleep with those voices still murmuring in my dreams. To this day, it troubles me to fall asleep in a silent house.

Those long eavesdropping nights made me a storyteller. They communicated to me, without anyone's needing to tell me, that the true apprehension of life's puzzles and pains is not in the living but in the recounting."
 
~~Jacquelyn Mitchard, "All Through The Night" in The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship
 
 
V is for Voices

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I'm Lovin' It

[Blurt alert: This post uses some foul slang for female body parts. And also the F-word. But only as much as absolutely necessary. If I could figure out an effective way to tell this story without using them, I would surely do so. But I can't, so consider yourself warned.]

Today, Daughter-Only had to be to work at noon. We left the house at 11:45 and because she'd overslept and hadn't eaten, she wanted to sneak through the drive-thru at McDonald's to grab a cheeseburger to scarf down (I know, I know: the breakfast of champions, right?).

The McDonald's in our town is in the corner of a busy and poorly planned parking lot. Because of this, there is no clearly marked line for the drive-thru cars to wait in. Some people form a line straight off the sign and going far back into the parts of the parking lot intended for other stores. Some people (including me) come in to the line from part of the lot that is set aside for McDonald's customers. (Not only does this feel logical to me, but there is actually an arrow painted on the blacktop to indicate that that is the way to go. However, said arrow is so faded you can only see it if you already know it's there and it can't be seen at all when coming from the other part of the lot.)

Naturally, with all this multi-directional traffic there are issues. For instance, a year or so ago, I was waiting in (what I consider) the correct line for the drive-thru when a woman came out of the restaurant and saw my van sitting behind her vehicle. While she had room to pull out, it would have required some maneuvering. I would have gladly backed up or inched forward for her, but before I could put my van into gear, she started gesticulating in an extremely rude manner and blowing her horn.

I am not normally an inconsiderate person, much less confrontational, especially in public. I feel sure I could muster legions of people, many of whom do not even know my name, who could attest to my random acts of kindness and consideration in retail settings all around town.

But! If someone is blatantly nasty or disrespectful to me, some sort of chemical change occurs within my brain and I become a person I barely recognize and of whom I am not always proud. Which is how and why I refused to move for the woman whose car I was behind until, forty-five seconds and numerous F-words (from her) later, the drive-thru line moved of its own volition.

During our exchange, in which I calmly told the woman that I would not be moving out of her way that very second, this woman called me a "fucking twat."

My first thought was, "I didn't know anyone even used that word anymore." I hadn't heard it since the school bus in seventh grade, when it was the height of hilarity to say "Twat did you say? I cunt hear you."

My second thought was, "What the hell is your fucking problem?!" Which thought came out mouth before I could stop it. Oops. Daughter-Only was with me that day as well and was equal parts appalled and impressed.

Today, as you have probably guessed by now, there was also a multi-directional traffic issue in the McDonald's drive thru. As Daughter-Only and I pulled up to the drive-thru, we immediately scoped out the line to assess her chances of getting to the window in time to make it to work before noon. There were four cars in line, including the one at the sign. I inched forward to position myself to get into the line while she was trying to decide whether we should just drive off and skip the cheeseburger.

Just as she decided that we should leave the line, a big red truck came from the other direction and tried to block me from getting into the line. I no longer even wanted to get in the line, but the set up of the lot meant that I needed to get between the red truck and the black car to pull away from the drive-thru line. As I pulled forward to do that, the young man (or as Daughter-Only referred to him, "the teenage redneck") began gesticulating rudely and pulled alongside of us, thereby blocking us from leaving the line.

I rolled down the passenger window, and he started yelling that he had been in line before us (which I knew was not the case) and that we needed to get to the back of the line. And...uh oh...there went that brain chemistry thing again. I calmly stated that I was in the line and things escalated from there.

I can draw diagrams, and provide additional details to interested parties, but the key highlights are that Daughter-Only was a little late for work, but she did get her cheeseburger. For what it's worth, she got her cheeseburger before the boys in the red truck got whatever it was they were so urgently trying to get.

Oh! And the fine upstanding young man at the wheel of the red truck called me a "fucking cunt" to which I calmly replied, "Do you really think that sort of language is going to get you the results you're looking for?" At that point, he realized the futility of his quest and got into line behind us. There was something disturbingly satisfying about watching the disappointment cross the boy's face when he realized his ultimate verbal weapon was utterly ineffective.

As we pulled away from the window a couple minutes later, both the boys in the truck could be heard screaming unimaginative obscenities at us.

As she got out of the car to go to work, I told Daughter-Only, "Well, now I've been called a fucking twat and a fucking cunt in the McDonald's parking lot. I figure if I can just get someone to call me a fucking pussy, I'll have achieved the lady parts insult trifecta!"

U is for Uncivilized*

*At one point during today's verbal scuffle, after he had flung numerous F-words but before he resorted to the C-word, the boy driving the truck said, "I have to be to class at 12:30!" To which I (calmly) said, "Oh? Is it a class in how to be a civilized human being? Because it seems like you could use a little instruction in that."

Random Quote Wednesday: A Twofer, in Honor of the Letter "T"

"Writing is the first anti-depressant. It came before Prozac or Effexor. And it was cheaper."

 
T is for Therapeutic
 
 
 
"Memories screwed up perspective, and the most vivid ones could annihilate time completely while they held sway."
~~Stephen King, Lisey's Story
 
T is for Time
 

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ho Ho How Many Times Are You Going To Tell That Story?

[Apparently at least one more time...This is a recycled post, originally appearing on the blog on December 25, 2009.]

The Christmas I was nine, I had pretty much given up on the idea of Santa. It's strange to me that I had not given up on it sooner--I was, after all, the kid who couldn't sit through the Wizard of Oz without harping on the fact that it would've been impossible for all those "people" who'd never met--Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion--to know all the words to the song "We're Off To See The Wizard." On the other hand, I did not seem to have much trouble accepting a talking Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion or, for that matter, a green-faced Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys so perhaps it's not so odd after all.


In any case, I didn't quite NOT believe in Santa but mostly that was the same kind of bet-hedging I imagine many on-the-fence agnostics indulge in--better not to say out loud, "There is no Santa" just in case there is one and he might be offended and vengeful at my disbelief.

So Little Sister and I were in the bedroom we shared, awake late, too excited to sleep, wondering aloud about the surprises there might be under the tree, just generally being kids on Christmas Eve. At some point--and I'm not sure if she was still awake or not--there came the sound of tinkling bells.

They were sleigh bells, of course. No other logical explanation could be found in my wanting-to-believe brain. And that sealed the deal on at least six more months of being right around 85% certain that Santa Claus not only existed but did in fact fly around the world in a sleigh pulled by bell-bedecked reindeer.

By the following Christmas, I no longer believed and I can't remember exactly what compelling evidence pushed me to non-believer status, but there was always this weird nagging doubt in the back of my mind--"What about those sleigh bells?"

Three years or so after I heard those sleigh bells, I was digging for dimes in the desk drawer where my father sometimes threw his pocket change and came across a photo of him with the box of the pinball machine we had found under the tree the Christmas morning I was nine and suddenly those sleigh bells made a lot more sense. It hadn't been a sleigh landing on the roof, it had been my father test-driving the pinball machine.

Thirty-two years later, the fact that I didn't recognize the bells of the sleigh the night before Christmas as the bells of the pinball machine Christmas morning remains one of my most enduring lessons in the power of our wishes and moods to influence our perceptions of the world around us. Though I've not always put it to good use*, the awareness that what I see is often influenced by what I "want" to see was a much longer-lasting gift than the pinball machine or anything else I found under the tree that morning.


*In that way, it's like the gift of exercise equipment--you have every intention of using it and you know it would do you good to use it, but all too often it ends up abandoned in some corner--a treadmill turned clothes rack.

S is for Santa Claus

Monday, April 21, 2014

Random Quote Monday

"Ironic that she'd become a dermatologist. She'd always had a personality like a rash, itchy, chafing, the kind of woman who just won't let you get comfortable."
~~Kathryn Harrison, Envy
 
 
R is for Rash


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Artist and His Muse

For the past few years, Daughter-Only has worked in a variety of retail businesses in our small town, managing to amass an alarming number of stories of inappropriate innuendo and outright harassing comments and requests from customers as well as from some of her fellow employees. Some of these things, coming as they did from her superiors (at a job she no longer holds) were legally actionable, or damned close.

Mostly though, they were misguided, socially awkward attempts to strike up a friendship or relationship or, um, let's say "relations" with Daughter-Only. One thing these types of commenters seemed to have in common was an utter lack of awareness about how their interest and the way they chose to express it might actually be perceived by Daughter-Only and those around her as more icky than intriguing, more frightening than flattering.

Currently, Daughter-Only (who will be 20 in June) works at a cafĂ© in an "arts center" that has studio space for various artists in its basement. She reported to me this week that one of the "artists from the basement" approached her and said, "I don't want to come across as a creepy middle-aged man, but I wanted to let you know that I am working on a sculpture of your face." He then went on to rave about her striking bone structure and to explain that he may be staring at her more than usual in the coming weeks--you know, for artistic purposes. All the while, Daughter-Only struggled to maintain her professional composure.

Now, perhaps--perhaps!--this middle-aged man has a purely artistic interest in my daughter. Perhaps--perhaps!--this man is not just a(nother) creepy middle-aged man expressing an inappropriate interest in my daughter.

But perhaps--perhaps!--this middle-aged man may want to come up with a better opening line, because there's no way that anything that begins with the line, "I don't want to come across as a creepy middle-aged man..." is going to be anything but creepy.

Q is for Qualms

Friday, April 18, 2014

Random Quote Friday

"Patriotism can be good or bad. Knee-jerk patriotism can be very bad. I'm patriotic...but I love my country the way I love a friend or a child who I would correct if she was going the wrong way. Who I expect the very best from."

~~Emmylou Harris, "What I've Learned," Esquire,June 2004
 
 
 
P is for Patriotism

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Random Quote Thursday

"I would not have done anything differently.

All of the moments in my life, everyone I have met, every trip I have taken, every success I have enjoyed, every blunder I have made, every loss I have endured has been just right. I'm not saying they were all good or that they happened for a reason--I don't buy that brand of pap fatalism--but they have been right. They have been...okay. As far as revelations go, it's pretty lame, I know. Okay is not bliss, or even happiness. Okay is not the basis for a new religion or self-help movement. Okay won't get me on Oprah. But okay is a start, and for that I am grateful."

 
 
 
O is for Okay

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Numbers Game

When I was in high school, I practiced an amateur and adolescent form of numerology, something loosely adapted from a bit in a women's magazine. (A magazine I probably skimmed in 1984 at the laundromat while my grandmother stood nearby using quantities of bleach that would likely require HazMat clearance were she to use them today.)

I remember that the system assigned numerical value to each letter (based on its place in the alphabet--so A was 1 and Z was 26) and you figured out a person's numerical essence (or whatever) by adding up the letters in his or her name and then adding all the digits together and repeating until you were left with one digit. So, for example, the letters in my name added up to 276 and 2 + 7 + 6 =  15  and 1 + 5 = 6. So, my number was six.

There was, I think, some sort of chart in that long-ago article to indicate which numbers were more "compatible" with one another, but I never really paid much attention to it and instead developed my own (self-serving) system that reliably backed up whatever it was I already believed about the person whose numbers I was running. The fact that Mr. High School and I shared the same essential number was proof of both our supernatural connection and the validity of this style of numerology. (Later, though I had mostly outgrown my personal numerological compulsions by that point, I couldn't help myself from boiling Hubby down to his numerical essence and reasoned that a "4" would be compatible with a "6" because we were both "even" numbers.)

I compulsively ran the numbers for myself and every crush I had for several years along with numbers for my friends and their respective crushes. I do not use that term "compulsively" lightly. I did it so often that I memorized the numerical position of every letter of the alphabet and to this day, that useless bit of trivial knowledge still takes up space in my brain, which is why when I saw the "M" on my calendar this morning for today's post, I thought to myself, "M is 13 and 13 is halfway there."

M is for Mumbo Jumbo

Monday, April 14, 2014

Insert Witty Title Here

Like many of us, I have grown more and more aware of the possibly catastrophic coming effects of climate change over the past ten or so years. This past month or so, though, I have read or watched a variety of particularly sobering reports--about the ways in which climate change and its effects are not only meeting the dire predictions of the past ten years but surpassing them at truly terrifying rates.

I was not entirely sure what to do with my increased panic level (other than let it keep me up all night, which it actually has on several occasions) and like a lot of people (but not so much like myself), I ended up posting a Facebook status (or two) about it.

One of them was this:

"There is no more pressing issue that we face as a nation, as a SPECIES, than climate change. We can no longer afford the luxury of willful ignorance and profit-driven denial. If your elected officials are not making addressing climate change a priority, elect new officials. Educate yourself and vote accordingly--for the sake of all our children and grandchildren."


Source


To which I would now like to add: Of course, the choices we make as individuals are very important and can make a difference in environmental issues of all kinds, but we are past the point where we can rely on the good choices of individuals to make the sort of difference that needs to be made. Things need to change--and quickly--on a national and global level. They need to change in a way that can only be made possible by legislative and regulatory measures.

Stumbling down from the soapbox now. For anyone interested in more information or links to the things I have been reading and watching, please feel free to email me at masked_mom@hotmail.com.

L is for Legislature

Contact information for your Senator can be found here, Representative here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Out On A Limb

A few years ago, Third Niece asked me about the difference between first and second cousins and what the heck could first cousins "once removed" or "twice removed" or whatever possibly mean?

This was something I was unclear about myself so I went out wandering in the wilds of the internet and found a site that explained it concisely and even had a handy-dandy chart that did not make me want to bang my head against my desk. (I'm somewhat chart averse.) Predictably, I have never been able to find that site again--even though I've spent a good hour or so today looking for it.

With the birth of First Granddaughter last fall coming a week before the birth of Fourth Nephew, and lots of other assorted cousins and aunts and uncles around, all these connections have been much on our minds every time any particular group of us gathers in the same room. Here is the simplest way I've been able to boil down my multiple website search of the subject:

A first cousin is someone with whom you share a grandparent.

A second cousin is someone with whom you share a great-grandparent. (Your grandparents are siblings, in other words. A second cousin is the grandchild of your great aunt or great uncle.)

A third cousin is someone with whom you share a great-great-grandparent. (Your great grandparents are siblings, your grandparents are cousins, and your parents are second cousins.)

And so on...

When it comes to "removals," this refers not to death or divorce or disinheritance (as Third Niece suspected when she was eleven), but to the number of generations between degrees of cousin. For instance, my father's cousin is my first cousin once removed and she is my children's first cousin twice removed. My father's cousin's children are my second cousins and they are my children's second cousins once removed. My father's cousin's children's children would be my children's third cousins, but my second cousins once removed.*

It all seems relatively simple when I'm typing it out on the computer screen in my quiet office. Trying to explain it out loud while some of these cousins and second cousins and first cousins once removed are scrambling under foot and darting in and out of the conversation is a much more difficult thing--and I love every minute of it.

K is for Kin

 *Uh, I think.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Masked Mom Original From Way Before She Was Masked Or A Mom

I have been stringing words together for fun and entertainment (and occasionally spite) for as long as I have known how to string letters together into words. I also have the slightest packrat tendency and as a consequence, a startling amount of those words remain in my possession in some form or other.

For instance, I have a manila envelope labeled "Guts of Mickey Mouse Notebook" which holds the earthly remains of several spiral notebooks that I once kept in a yellow three-ring binder that had Mickey Mouse on it. I began writing stories in these notebooks in around the 4th grade. The front fell off the binder mid-way through my freshman year of high school. The back fell off the rings when my youngest child was five or maybe six. I slid everything that was left into the manila envelope about eight years ago on a day when Daughter-Only and First Niece were having fits of hilarity at the (wholly unintended) sexual innuendo in a story I called "A Fun Time" that I wrote when I was nine.

Tonight, I share a fifth grade story I have zero recollection of writing--though the autobiographical slant to this fictional piece is undeniable--especially to anyone who is familiar with how often I was the "new child" in class. Undeniable--and sort of hilarious.
(In order not to wear out the S, I, and C keys on my keyboard, assume all errors below to be [sic].)

The original in all its misspelled glory. From the 1978-'79 school year.


Trouble Makers
 
     One day in a school in Kentucky* some children met on the playground. These particular children loved making trouble. The oldest group was Mark McDonald he made sure everyone did what they weren't supposed to do. There were many other children. Mildred B. was one of the best trouble makers. But, one who was even better was Amillia C. There were many more of them. They called themselves T.T.M. which means: Triple Trouble Makers.
    
     One time a new child came to class. Her name was Candy. On the first day she really liked the T.T.M. Because they were acting very nice. But on the next day she found how they acted. Oh, dear there was a terrible argument. In the end Candy wouldn't even go near the T.T.M.
 
     To finish the story I'll tell you just T.T.M. does. There are a number of rotten things.
 
     First, they taugt people to dislike other people. Another bad thing is cheating and stealing just about anything they could get there hands on. Plus they took anything and everything that they could get for free.
 
     So you see, they are truly Triple Trouble Makers!
 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 
J is for Juvinilia

*For what it's worth, I was never the "new child" in a class in Kentucky. In fact, as far as I know, I'd never even been through Kentucky and I haven't been to Kentucky to this day. Not that I've got anything against Kentucky, of course.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fifteen Minutes Could Save You A Buncha Money...

I've said it before and I hope I don't have to say it again any time soon, but I heart GEICO. I love everything about them and considering that the only time I really need to talk to them is when something at least moderately crappy has happened, it's all the more refreshing to say I have never had a single bad experience with them.

I is for Insurance

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Random Quote Wednesday

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people."
 
~~Virginia Woolf, "The Leaning Tower" from The Moment and Other Essays
 
 
H is for Honesty

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Don't Touch That Dial

A few years ago, I had a coworker who was in his late forties. He had two young children with his (youngish) second wife and three much older children from his first marriage. One of his older daughters had just given birth to his first grandchild. Several members of this extended family were in active addiction and there was lots of drama from all directions.

In the midst of all of this, my coworker struggled to be the voice of reason, running interference, coming to the rescue in any way he could all while attending nursing school and working two demanding part-time jobs. He worked 30 hours or so each week at the halfway house with me and another 20-25 hours a week as a certified nurse's aid for a home health care service.

On Monday nights, we had an hour of quiet time in the staff office while the residents hosted an AA meeting in the dining room. We often spent that hour discussing the latest twist in the lives of his family members.

Sometimes, though, the topic of conversation was limited to the width, breadth, and depth of our respective exhaustion levels. (Mine always felt a little less well-earned than his since it seemed out of proportion with my life's demands and was instead mostly a product of insomnia and excess body weight.) We could talk at great length about the flavors of our fatigue--we were connoisseurs of weariness.  

One night, he slumped back in his chair, his arms flopped over the sides and said with a sigh, "I feel like someone has turned gravity way up."

Tonight, I say to whoever keeps messing with the gravity dial: "Hey! Could you please knock it off?"

G is for Gravity

Monday, April 07, 2014

Anything Boys Can Do...

[Blurt alert: this post uses a scientifically correct word for a part of the male anatomy in a non-graphic, non-sexual context. Consider yourself warned.]

When I was eight, my mother bought my sisters and I matching short sets with red-trimmed halter tops on which a girl was swinging a baseball bat. The shirts read: "Anything boys can do, girls can do better."

It was 1976 and that was a fairly revolutionary concept in some circles--the idea that girls were at least as capable as boys at all kinds of things. Raised as I was, by the parents I had, it never really occurred to me to think otherwise. And for most of my adult life, I was sheltered to some extent from overt sexism and chauvinism--I worked in mostly female workplaces, which is a big part of it and before entering places like auto parts stores or hardware stores, I've learned to arm myself with the sort of knowledge that heads antiquated assumptions off at the pass.

For the past five years, though, I've worked in an all-male halfway house for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Not only have many of the residents suffered from some outdated notions about gender roles and women's potential skillsets, but so do several of my male coworkers.

The other day, I was driving with a resident downtown and picked up some sort of metal debris that pierced the rear passenger tire. The tire was flat in seconds. We pulled into a store parking lot where we intended to change the tire, but discovered fairly quickly that there was no spare. (This is on a brand new vehicle, incidentally. For this particular make and model the spare tire is considered "optional" equipment, but that's a gripe for another time.)

I called the halfway house and spoke with my (female) boss and asked her to send down a (male) coworker to pick the resident and me up because there is no spare tire on the new van. (I picked the male coworker only because everyone else was getting ready to leave for the day.) So the male coworker arrives, with another resident beside him and they both start to get out of the van they are in, clearly intending to rescue me and the resident with me because they assume that I (a woman) and he (a small-statured hippie stoner type) are incapable of finding or putting on the spare tire.

I begin to tell my male coworker that there is no spare tire, but he does not even make eye contact with me and instead, looks at the hippie stoner resident, who is standing just behind me. When the resident confirms my version of events, my coworker and the newly arrived resident rehook their seat belts and accept that there is nothing they can do.

As we were driving away, we were all talking about how ridiculous it was that a brand new vehicle lacked a spare tire. Then the resident who had come down with my male coworker laughed and said, "I came down because I assumed Hippie Stoner would not know how to change a tire."

Hippie Stoner said, "Hey! I've worked on a few cars--out of necessity and by default, but still: I know how to change a tire."

I couldn't help myself at this point, I piped up. "For the record, not that you asked, but I know how to change a tire, too."

The chorus of "oh really" and "you do?" was almost more than I could bear. Here it is 2014, and it is apparently still a revolutionary concept that women are at least as capable as men at all kinds of things. These men appeared to be suffering genuine astonishment that a woman might know how to change a tire.

"Yes," I said, as though talking patiently to small children. "Yes, it's really true. I can change a tire all by myself--even though I don't have a penis."

My deployment of the P-word caused much chuckling and snorting so I paused to give them a moment to collect themselves before I went on. "I know it's amazing, and you might not really believe it, but it turns out that a penis is not a necessary implement for changing a tire."

They all laughed. Here's hoping they might also have learned a little something, too. 

F is for Feminism.




Saturday, April 05, 2014

Holding On

There is a tree growing at the very edge of a pond right beside the highway a few miles outside of town. Maybe it is two trees, growing very closely together or one tree that somehow branched into two trunks. From the road, it's impossible to tell.
 
For years now, this tree has been leaning ever closer to the pond. Every time I have to travel that way, I make a point of checking in on the tree--are its lowest branches touching the water yet? Has it fallen in completely? How much longer can it hold on?
 
This tree speaks to me about the tenacity of life, about putting down strong roots in inhospitable and unlikely places, about holding on and hanging in there.
 
 
This was taken near the end of last winter. The pond was frozen and snow-dusted.


E is for Evergreen

Friday, April 04, 2014

Recycled Moment of Zen*

For today, a riddle:

Q: What do you call a camel with no humps?

A: Humphrey.

D is for Dromedary

*Fans of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart may recall hearing this riddle quite recently.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

...And Eat It Too

I dabble in cake decorating, making--or attempting to make--custom cakes and cupcakes for family and friends. In this, as in so many of my endeavors, I am self-educated, having followed a curriculum built of instinct, curiosity, joy in a challenge and the occasional instruction manual or internet video.

Sometimes, I'm pretty satisfied with the results. For example:


Snowman cake for a coworker

Spaghetti & meatballs cake for a fundraiser

Zebra cake for the daughter of a friend

Skittles-filled rainbow cake for Seventh Niece




Sometimes, though, the cakes fall into a whole other category. After so many years of "perfecting" my craft, I hardly ever have out-and-out failures anymore, in part because I have learned to give myself lots of leeway time-wise so that the ones that take a sharp left turn toward failure end up in the garbage can and are replaced by something at least presentable. And also because I've learned that enough frosting can cover up all sorts of horrible mistakes.

Still, there is plenty of room between the garbage can and "pretty satisfied" for cakes like this one:

Jeff Gordon car for the husband of a coworker

 


As I was putting the finishing touches on this cake last weekend, I declared to Hubby that it was another one I'd file under "Not as good as I'd hoped, but not as bad as I'd feared."

Being the pathologically philosophical sort, it hit me that all sorts of things in my life could be filed under "Not as good as I'd hoped, but not as bad as I'd feared." And it hit me, too, that learning to not only live with, but embrace "Not as good as I'd hoped, but not as bad I'd feared." might be a valuable life skill.

C is for Cake

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spare Change

Among the many ways I am blessed is that I have so very many creative and talented people in my life. Among them is my sister, Sheila (a.ka. Little Sister here on the blog), an artist, who happens also to be disabled by spinal adhesive arachnoiditis. She is currently raising funds for a project combining her art and her arachnoiditis activism. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read about this worthy cause, chip in if you are able and pass it on if you're so inspired--all of which you can do by clicking here.





Thanks.


B is for Benefactors.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

And So It Begins...

I had big plans for the inaugural post of this year's A-Z Challenge. "A" was going to be for Appaloosa and I was going to share a story about frozen horse poop employed as a weapon in a battle of the sexes (of sorts), but alas, midnight has come much more quickly than I'd anticipated so we will have to settle for a whole other word. Since I found myself buried beneath a mound of unanticipated obligations...

A is for Avalanche.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Putting the "Us" in Hiatus

Once, a longish time ago--so long ago I don't remember exactly how long--Hubby and I were snuggled in on a night that turned out to be chillier than we'd expected.

I nudged him. "Do you think we need another blanket?"

He reached for an old blanket that was folded across the top of the cedar chest at the end of the bed. The blanket had been a hand-me-down from who the heck remembered where and we'd had it for the whole time we'd been together, ten years at least. When he held the blanket up to spread it out over us, there were spots thin enough to see through and a constellation of ragged-edged holes in various sizes.

"Baby," I said, sleepily, "that is not a blanket. That is a hole with a little blanket around it."

I would be embarrassed about how hard I laughed at my own joke were it not for the fact that, even now, years--nay, a decade and then some--later, I still get the giggles thinking of that moment.

I bring it up now not to flaunt my half-awake cleverness*, but so that you will understand what I mean when I say that this has become less a blog than a hole with a little blog around it.

I'm no triskaidekaphobe (though I am weirdly partial to words with two Ks in them), but here at Masked Mom headquarters, 2013 was a bit of a rough year in some ways I can't quite put my writerly finger on and, too, in some ways I can, but won't, at least not here on the blog.

Toward the end of the year, finally, it became clear that we were going to come out the other side of 2013 not only no worse for the wear, but in some ways better yet, which is how these things have a tendency of playing out, if we can only be patient enough to sit through the rough stuff.

I have mentioned here before that Hubby and I began our marriage at an absurdly tender age (though older than my own parents by a few years) in a hazy rush of hormones and impulsivity. I have mentioned, too, that the path has not always been smooth--which is a blog-sanitized understatement if ever there were one. But still, here we are--our twenty-sixth anniversary in the rear view mirror and twenty-seven fast approaching.

Very early on a morning in late November, our first grandchild was born, more than a month and a half ahead of schedule. At four-something in the morning, after mother and daddy and baby were deemed safe and as sane as could be expected, Hubby, Daughter-Only and I were driving back from the hospital on deserted roads through a snowstorm. The car was cozy warm and we were all awestruck and exhausted. Our conversation was a fragmented jumble of non-sequential moments from the night. Some of them we went back to again and again--for example, how the baby somehow looked feisty and fragile all at once and how both her parents looked pretty much the same.

Into a lull in this conversation, a weird thought wandered into my overstimulated brain. And as so often happens--particularly when my already faulty filter is further compromised by a heady combination of exhaustion and euphoria--immediately after this weird thought wandered into my brain, it wandered right out my mouth.

"Listen," I warned, "something just occurred to me. And, most likely, I shouldn't say it out loud, but I find that at the moment I completely lack the ability to not say it." I reached for Hubby's hand, which was sort of awkward because for some reason that I don't remember, he was riding in the backseat.

"Of all the people who attended our wedding, how many of them do you think thought we would still be together when our first grandchild was born?"

Hubby gave my hand a squeeze and chuckled. "Only us."

This was exactly the right thing to say and not exactly true at the exact same time.

I don't recall us being all that sure on the inside, though we talked a good game to anyone who asked. Predictably, the fact that everyone else's uncertainty was so much on display only served to solidify our own certainty, to harden our denial of that little voice inside each of us that was saying, "Hold up a second! You've known this person how long?"

I remember that at the time, the uncertainty was a tiny but terrifying force that was dulled only slightly by the haze of hormones and impulsivity. So terrifying was that tiny uncertainty that it felt necessary to try to bury it beneath shovelfuls of denial: of course we were sure, we had never been more sure of anything in our entire lives, thank you very much.

From this distant vantage point, the uncertainty seems not only perfectly logical, but a sign that, perhaps despite our young, impractical, hormone-addled selves, we actually were taking the marriage thing more seriously than anyone would've suspected. Of course we weren't sure, how the hell could we have been?

Now that we are older, slightly less impractical and still occasionally hormone-addled, the truth is that I distrust certainty far more than I do uncertainty. Sometime in the last few years, I woke up with this completely context-free thought in my head: "The things I've been the most sure of have often turned out to be the things I've been the most wrong about."

I am still certain of a few things, though. For example, this is certainly one of the most adorable and most loved babies on the planet:   
 Photo courtesy of her Mama. This photo was not taken specifically for First Granddaughter's debut on the blog, but I kind of thought the somewhat dubious expression on her face was appropriate for such an occasion.


And, for another example, I'm fairly sure that twenty-seven years of certainty and uncertainty and sometimes confusing one for the other can be woven into just enough blanket to hold all the threadbare parts together.



*But, c'mon! It was pretty clever.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Ways I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Twentieth In A Potentially Infinite Series

The summer I turned 13, I was miserable. To anyone who has been a 13-year-old girl, or even known a 13-year-old girl, this information may sound redundant at best. I was 13. I was a girl. Of course I was miserable.

Also of course, I in no way recognized that much of my misery was misery of the garden variety, hormonally driven, stereotypical 13-year-old girl sort. My misery, I was certain, was special.

Part of the specialness of my misery was that at the beginning of that summer, we had moved to a new town, leaving behind a boy on whom I'd had a crippling crush--a crush, needless to say, that I had never admitted out loud to him.

Because school was not in session and our new house was well outside of town, there were no new friends or even classes to distract me from spinning elaborate fantasies from the teeniest of what ifs. What if we hadn't moved for another week or month? What if three weeks before we had moved, I had somehow scraped together the courage to declare my never-ending love? What if he had loved me back?

I remember one afternoon, at the tail end of one or another of my all-too-frequent misery-fueled tantrums1, my mother was in my bedroom patiently trying to get to the bottom of my outbursts and moodiness. This was no easy task, as I was (to put it mildly) not the most forthcoming of children, particularly about any feelings that may have been perceived as "weak" or "vulnerable."2

On this occasion, I managed to squeeze out something vague about how I wished things had gone differently before we'd moved from the old place--that I couldn't stop thinking about things I should've said or done.

My mother made all the right sympathetic noises and then she said, "You know, it's really not healthy to wallow in the past."3 She went on to make the inarguable point that the past cannot be changed so it's a waste of time and energy to imagine otherwise.

Twice in the past week, I have caught myself making somewhat the same point to two different people. Both of them were talking about regrets and wasted time--of failing to live up to their own expectations, of letting themselves (and in one case, others) down. I told them (more or less), you cannot keep carrying around that regret and disappointment--the weight of it is a burden that will only hamper future progress and forward motion.

It is ever-so easy to be wise about other people's lives, but I am a wallower from way back. And I am a wallower still.




1. Because if you can't take your misery out on your younger siblings, who can you take it out on?

2. I have thought a lot about why this was the case and I have some theories, but I also have a strong feeling it's something I might never really figure out without some professional help. "Professional" in this case being a synonym for "expensive."

3. I was lying in my bed when my mother said this and she was sitting in a chair across the room, right next to the fireplace. I had a fireplace in my bedroom because we were living in a nearly 200-year-old house and there were fireplaces in all the bedrooms. They were mostly boarded up or bricked in, but still fireplaces in every bedroom. This has nothing at all to do with this story except perhaps as a measurement of the power of 13-year-old angsty misery--I mean, who is miserable with a fireplace in their bedroom?!